Harnessing academic excellence for biotech and drug discovery

Image of Graeme Wilkinson Harnessing academic excellence for biotech and drug discovery

Graeme Wilkinson, Head of Virtual R&D at Medicines Discovery Catapult, looks at how the UK can harness academic excellence to create the high quality assets which will bolster the biotech sector and drug discovery on a global scale.

Drug discovery is complex, costly and multi-skilled. The industry has moved from a fully integrated model to one which is performed through an increasingly ‘virtual’, or outsourced, approach. It is also increasingly reliant on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as a source of innovation. However, a large proportion of biotech SMEs have few employees and accessing the very best scientific expertise and technology can prove challenging (HM Government, Strength and Opportunity 2015, The landscape of the medical technology and biopharmaceutical sectors in the UK).

The UK has a wealth of private and public sector assets to support modern medicines R&D through the drug discovery process. This includes a vibrant, dynamic network of R&D companies developing new therapeutics and providing essential services, as well as research organisations, the NHS, world-class institutes and universities.

The State of the Discovery Nation 2019 report showed that 1200 service and supply companies account for 80% of SMEs in the UK medicines discovery community.

“The UK has a wealth of private and public sector assets to support modern medicines R&D through the drug discovery process”

Competing globally

The importance of service and supply companies should not be underestimated. They include: contract research organisations (CROs), advisory services and consultants as well as organisations that provide access to state-of-the-art technologies and laboratory capabilities. Improvements in this sector directly improve the productivity of the national and international R&D projects they serve.

This increases investment into UK biotech and attracts foreign direct investment. This flow of capital is key to maintaining the UK’s global competitiveness in a sector that’s critical for UK plc.

The complex, distributed service and supply sector can be difficult to navigate, particularly for SMEs, translational academics and charities. This can limit innovators’ access to current, industry-quality advice and the services which are fundamental to their success. Ensuring innovators have ready access to the enabling tools, advice and expertise they need will, overtime, allow academia to translate more of its high quality research.

As part of delivering that strategy and to ensure UK drug discovery projects have wider access to best-in-class UK service companies, Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) has forged a network of high-quality providers, establishing the Discovery Services platform.

The Discovery Services platform combines full-service and specialist, private sector CROs and expert labs which provide expertise, services, and state-of-the-art assays.

The Discovery Services platform is managed and used by the MDC’s Virtual R&D team. They help drug discovery innovators in SMEs and academia engage the skills and expertise required to ensure critical, value-based experiments are performed, data is captured, and IP is secured. It enables leaner development teams to be effective and to access drug discovery know-how from a wider cohort of experts, irrespective of their location.

Adding value

In conjunction with its partners in Discovery Services, MDC’s Virtual R&D can be called upon to analyse drug discovery projects, identify key questions and opportunities.

A path involving the appropriate expert service and supply organisations, through the platform network, can also be recommended in order to reach clear outcomes.

Drug discovery will increasingly be performed through externalised networks of enabling service providers and by accessing knowledge and expertise from multiple sources. MDC is well-positioned to help innovators navigate this environment, address key questions, and add confidence and value to their drug discovery assets.

Through the capabilities of the CROs in the Discovery Services platform, drug discovery SMEs are enabled to develop therapeutics through outsourcing and the UK’s thriving service and supply sector is used to best effect to develop into new markets.

Top 5 takeaways

  1. 1200 service and supply companies account for 80% of SMEs in the UK medicines discovery community.
  2. Innovators need access to current, industry-quality advice and services.
  3. There is an opportunity to convert excellence into high quality UK assets.
  4. Drug discovery will increasingly be performed through externalised networks.
  5. SMEs, translational academics and charities need support to access current, industry-quality advice.

Graeme Wilkinson is Head of Virtual R&D at Medicines Discovery Catapult. Go to md.catapult.org.uk